How did the comedian known as Papa Jean get his stage name? You don’t have to guess too hard. “My stage name comes from two places,” the comedian explains. “My name is the most popular French and Haitian name ever—Jean.” And the Papa? It’s a tribute to the father who raised him, and as a native-born Brooklynite, he is an admirer of legendary rapper Biggie Smalls, also known as Big Poppa.
In his videos, Papa Jean plays countless fathers and uncles. His skits ring true to thousands who follow him and his videos on Instagram. Take the video entitled “Haitian Parents Bargaining”. Papa Jean shows up at a garage sale, and sees a kiddie piano. The asking price is $10. Ever the haggler, he makes this argument: “This is for my son. He is only five. What will he do with a $10 piano?” The garage sale guy offers to take $2 off the price, and throws in a stand for the piano. A good deal! Well, Papa Jean doesn’t think so. He sucks in his teeth. Jesus is bound to send him a better garage sale deal, he reasons before storming off angrily.
While Papa Jean is the comedian’s main character, he also plays his own son in his skits, and an overdramatic mom. In the clip “On A Diet When Haitian Moms Offer Food”, the funny man as “mom” gives her son her hard stare when he asks for organic griyo. The mom’s facial features turn monster-like. Her son’s diet is insulting to her cooking. “When Haitian Parents Find Out That Fetty Wap Is Haitian”, Mama Jean jubilantly dances on the stairs, when a few seconds before she had stood approvingly by Papa Jean, as he badgered his son for listening to the hip-hop star.
A character that Papa Jean has been experimenting with lately is the ne’er-do-well Roland. Roland imagines himself to be the town’s smooth operator. With his 1997 Toyota Camry, he cruises the streets in search of prey, and threatens to steal away distinguished gentlemen’s girls in their absence. “I will eat you like a mango,” he says flirtatiously to a potential girlfriend—who’s most likely already taken. Roland holds up a ripe and plump mango for emphasis.
Whether it’s on his YouTube channel or on Instagram, Papa Jean always has something going on. When he doesn’t have a new video for his fans, he has emojis and picture posts with a hilarious message. He is a comedian, but he’s also an actor and director—two talents that most of his fans don’t see because they’re too busy enjoying him as a comedian.
Well, your girl Kreyolicious just had to reach out to Papa Jean—who is definitely one of the most talented, ingenuous comedians of Haitian descent on the scene. Here’s what our conversation was like…
Above: Behind Papa Jean the comedian is a multi-faceted actor who represents Brooklyn…all day.
Kreyolicious: Tell us more about yourself Papa Jean.
[I’ve spent] half my life in Brooklyn and the other half in Queens. No one in my family is involved in entertainment—but me. I love writing, acting, and being me which equates to being entertaining. My parents were born ad raised in Haiti and came to the USA when they were around 18-19. So, I really got the best of worlds growing up! I love watching movies, but I don’t like taking long walks on the beach. [Laughter]
Kreyolicious: One thing about some comedians…is that they always had a knack for getting attention. Is that what you were like in school?
Yes! Getting attention was always my thing. Whether it was getting in trouble, impressing a girl, or outdoing friends—I always had to best center of attention and be the best center of attention! [Laughter] Guess what? It’s still like that today! My sister just recently gave a speech at her graduation and she shouted me out. She said she truly admires me for the way I demand attention in a room without even saying a word. She said no matter what the situation—or who the people are—everyone notices me right away. That was one of the best and heartfelt comments someone has ever given me. I was truly flattered.
Kreyolicious: Who has been the most encouraging person when it comes to your art?
Believe it or not, the most encouraging person has been Richard Pryor. I have sat down and watched everything than Richard Pryor has ever said that is public. The man was a realistic genius. He took the most realest and serious situations, introduced people to them, and made them laugh ’til they cried. Although I don’t consider myself a stand-up comedian, watching Richard perform was just like sitting down and listening to your uncle tell a good story. Richard never seemed like he was telling a joke…He just spoke.
Above: A beardless Papa Jean works the mike.
Kreyolicious: For sure…When did you first realize that you were really funny?
The first time I realized I was funny was when I was born…came out my mom’s womb…nurse slapped my behind to cry and I said, “Hey, nothing is free in this world…That would be $5!” Honestly, I never realized [it] myself. Other people would always tell me that [I was funny]—starting from grade school. I never took that as a compliment growing up. I took it like it was just who I was. Genes…Like some people are born with brown eyes, others blue…I was born funny.
Kreyolicious: How have your parents received this whole idea of you being a comedian?
My parents see me more as an actor than a comedian. I have been in many, many plays and have played many, many roles from comedic to dramatic to Shakespearean. All in all, my parents don’t like the entertainment business. They feel it’s a fantasy. Their dreams for me was to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer….[Laughter]…Like most Haitian parents. Do they support me now?…I dont even….maybe. [Laughter]
Kreyolicious: Social media platforms are really tops when it comes to promoting new talent. Were you shy about using them at first?
No. I was never shy about using social media platforms. They are basically the wave of the future…When you’ve performed Shakespeare in front of 20,000 people, performing in front of your iPhone for an Instagram or Vine is light work.
Kreyolicous: What’s the most helpful class you took…that you feel is helping you create your videos and furthering your art?
The most helpful class I took was Creative Writing 101 back in college. That class had a ripple effect on my life and career. Learning how to express myself on paper opened a whole new realm of avenues for me. It trickled from screenwriting, playwriting, poetry, music—and even acting. My professor was great too! She was such a free spirit and helped me get my ideas out of my head and onto paper. I really recommend [that] everyone take a creative writing class. Even if you have absolutely nothing to do with the arts…It’s a great way to vent…Think of it as life therapy.
Kreyolicious: Have you ever made a joke or played a prank that you later regretted? Do tell!
I had to pause to really hard about this question. Surprisingly, I have never made a joke or pulled a prank I later regretted. I like to commit all the way! [Laughter]
Kreyolicious: You ever been tried to impress a girl with a joke?
You see, I am a naturally funny guy. Having a typical conversation with a woman always involved tons of laughing from her. So, I don’t think I’ve ever tried to impress a girl with a joke…But now on the other hand…acting silly or a fool is a different story. I once used prop crutches as a tool to woo this girl. I knew where she worked and I came in on the crutches and played the helpless role. Even fell right in front of her and pulled her down to the ground with me when she tried to help me up. It was an award winning performance which scored me several dates with her…and yes I used the crutches every time. [Laughter] I told you I love to commit to my roles and jokes.
Kreyolicious: How do you stay connected to Haitian culture?
The internet has been the most up-to-date way I’ve stayed connected to Haiti—reading and watching news mostly. But, ever since I started posting my Instagram videos, Haiti has been staying connected with me. I’ve met so many Haitians and Haitian-Americans…and I’m learning from all of them. The last time I was in Haiti was the summer of 2007, but I plan to make a trip [soon] as well.
Kreyolicious: To grow, you have to try new things, try new avenues. What should we expect from you next?
Yes. New avenues definitely help you grow. I have several things in the works right now…a sitcom, movie script, and a play. The skits I put together on Instagram actually help me in developing these projects and characters in these projects. This year is my year, and I’m going to make my mark and I’m taking Haiti with me.
CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT OTHER KREYOLICIOUS COMEDIANS.